PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has ordered authorities stationed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals to “watch the watchers” amid a widening scandal over the planting of bullets in travelers’ luggage as part of an extortion racket targeting the elderly and overseas Filipino workers.
“I have already outlined the steps that are to be taken in light of the situation that we find ourselves in,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.
“And we also know that the National Bureau of Investigation is already on deck to conduct their own investigation. The President has ordered that you have to watch the watchers,” she added.
Valte would not comment further until the NBI has submitted its report.
She added that Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has been continually updating the President.
“All avenues will be pursued and investigated,” she said.
“It’s a general statement for government that while there are security measures, we also have to make sure that these measures are implemented properly, and that no one is taking advantage,” said Valte.
“The President’s stand on this is if the process is okay, but there are abuses on both sides, then action must be taken against this,” she said.
Three suspects found to be carrying bullets at the Naia Terminal 3 on Thursday were temporarily freed after undergoing inquest proceedings.
All three admitted the bullets found on them were their amulets.
The three were brought to the Pasay Prosecutor’s Office at 10 p.m. Thursday by personnel from the Office for Transportation Security and the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group.
The suspects were identified as Mildred Vitug, Josephine Rabano, and Shine Eñola.
Rabano was found with an M16 bullet in her shoulder bag. She said it was her amulet and she has had it for a year. She added that she just went to Terminal 3 to fetch someone.
Vitug said she was sending off someone at the airport when she was caught with an M14 bullet in her coin purse. She said it has been her amulet for the last 10 years.
Eñola said she was fetching someone at the airport when authorities saw her amulet in her bag. She said she was carrying the amulet for her child’s safety.
Assistant City Prosecutor Josefina Muego explained the process of inquest to each of them.
She also questioned the suspects as to where the bullets were found and why they were carrying them.
The Public Attorney’s Office lawyer was present to provide legal assistance to those arrested, the report said.
From the Prosecutor’s Office, the three were then turned over to the Aviation Security Group past midnight, after which they were released pending further investigation.
Liberal Party vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo on Friday called on the Public Attorneys Office to set up satellite stations at NAIA to provide legal assistance to those who are caught carrying bullets in their luggage.
“This is to ensure that those apprehended will get immediate legal help and their rights under the law are protected,” said Robredo, who worked for PAO in her early years.
“The presence of a PAO lawyer will deter any attempt to harass and extort [money] from those arrested, especially the overseas Filipino workers who worked hard to earn a living for their families here,” she added.
Earlier, PAO chief Persida Rueda Acosta expressed readiness to help those apprehended for carrying bullets in NAIA.
A number of passengers have been arrested in NAIA for possession of bullets in their luggage. Some of them claimed they were victimized by the “Tanim Bala” syndicate operating in the airport.
Similarly, Robredo pushed for the passage of her measure to decriminalize the mere possession of not more than three bullets to stop the alleged “Tanim Bala” scam at the NAIA and safeguard passengers from harassment and extortion.